Feb 26, 2007

Albanese calls for urban water reform – The World Today

Albanese calls for urban water reform

The World Today

26 February 2007 12:26am

Reporter: Jane Cowan

ELEANOR HALL: Labor’s Water spokesman, Anthony Albanese, has used a speech in Melbourne today to make a call for even further federal control of Australia’s water supplies.

Mr Albanese said the Commonwealth needed to take a leading role not just in allocating water to irrigators and farmers, but in securing urban supplies as well.

Mr Albanese described the Prime Minister’s Murray-Darling proposals as a substantial reform, but he said a Labor Government would go further.

Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: The Prime Minister’s bold $10 billion plan to take over the management of the Murray-Darling River system from the States isn’t bold enough for Labor’s Anthony Albanese.

The water spokesman now wants the Commonwealth to take on water supplies in Australian cities, where 17 million Australians live.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Water use and water supply in urban Australia is a national crisis. It requires a national response.

Labor doesn’t just seek clean water as an expenditure of money, we seek clean water as an investment in the future of Australia.

JANE COWAN: The Government has set aside $2 billion in what’s called the Australian Water Fund. But Anthony Albanese says more than half of that money is not only unspent, but unallocated.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: You would think there was no urgency to this task for the Government sitting on that money.

JANE COWAN: It’s that money that the Opposition’s Water spokesman says Labor would use to secure water supplies in major cities.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Urban infrastructure is important for the jobs and lifestyles of those who live in our major cities, but it’s much more than that. Urban infrastructure investment is essential in the creation of sustainable cities to address climate change, and urban infrastructure is also critical to improve productivity and economic growth.

JANE COWAN: And Labor would go further.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: As well as through direct funding of water projects through Commonwealth water programs, a Rudd Labor Government will establish a Commonwealth statutory authority called ‘Infrastructure Australia’, which will coordinate the planning, regulation and nation-building infrastructure. We’ll address the failure of the Commonwealth to engage in urban infrastructure programs, through the Major Cities Program, which will support practical initiatives.

This will provide significant opportunities for good water infrastructure to be funded and built.

JANE COWAN: Speaking on the weekend, the Water Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said it wasn’t necessarily the farming of thirsty crops, like rice and cotton, in the arid Australian climate that was a problem.

Tody Mr Albanese appeared to disagree. While he didn’t specify exactly which crops he had in mind, Mr Albanese said it was important to be as productive as possible.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Growing more food with less water alleviates scarcity, and it contributes to food security and puts less strain on nature.

The most effective way to increase water productivity is to shift water use by trading from low-value to high-value crops. To facilitate this, water entitlements and water trading regimes have to be developed. They must provide security for water users and security for the environment.

JANE COWAN: Mr Albanese also blamed over-allocation for water shortages, and said the redressing of that imbalance was an ongoing problem.

Jane Cowan in Melbourne.